It’s a Sunday and we’ve arranged to meet at The Grove for a little coffee session. The thought here is a half hour sit down, catch a vibe, swap some words and be on our way. Cut to 3 hours later- actuality sets in and I think we both found it refreshing to see ourselves in someone else’s eyes.
“I don’t hate you, because to hate you is to require I love you” – harsh, yet true statement.
The truth. This girl is ageless and filled to the brim with love. She finds comfort in the challenge. She was a figure skater for 12 years. A dancer. A good student. An immigrant from a Southern boy who fell in love with a beautiful Persian woman out of the war. I’ve never met her parents, but she does their accents perfectly, for she is, in fact, an actress as well.
But that’s not why we’re here today. We’re here because she is a percussionist and vocalist in the duo known as Tearist. She explained to me how the name was derived from the actual tearing of pages from a manifesto and rearranging them to write a song. I mention the above because passion seems to drive full speed ahead to anything that tickles her fancy. And she’s damn thorough about her endeavors… tearing through this life and rearranging it exactly how she sees fit.
My favorite part of our conversation is not when she imitated herself doing a Barbara Streisand interpretation when she was a kid. Or the ailments of our bodies, the wounds we’ve had to nurse. The overcoming of adversity in an America that sees us as different. What it means to be a woman in this new age. The story about how her father met her mother with his ‘orange fingers’. Her sensitivity and awareness to every sound that changed in the environment and her being effected by it. Or how we walked to the parking lot and were saying our farewells and ended up sitting on the wall outside Johnny Rockets to talk for another hour about the relativity of life and art and how it is all intrinsically connected. No. The best part was when these two kids came up and recognized her. Perhaps from one of her films? Or from Tearist?
“Hey, don’t you substitute teach, I had you for a class” -student strolling The Grove on a Sunday afternoon
No doubt. You will remember Yasmine Kittles. – By Arianna Basco
Born in: Frankfurt, Germany
Where do you live now: I live in Silverlake in Los Angeles, CA
Bands you are drumming in currently: I play percussion and sing in TEARIST.
Bands you were drumming for in the past: XEZ
What you do for a living: I play music, and I am an actor. So… When these aren’t paying the bills- which is too often… I am a substitute teacher in Beverly Hills. I’m totally serious.
Tom Tom Magazine: When did you start playing percussion?
Yasmine Kittles: Ever since I can remember getting told to stop “banging stuff” as a child. I guess, I grew up and kept banging on stuff. They just call it “noise” now… I wish I could go back to the toddler version of me and say to my mom: “No, mother. I will not stop banging on everything. I am ‘creating’ right now, and you are, currently, disrupting my ‘process’.”
Tom Tom Magazine: Reason that you started playing percussion?
Yasmine Kittles: I’ve always been attracted to beats and vibrations. It’s the pulse of the band. It really is the basis for everything that happens within the song. I was a figure skater for 12 years and a dancer for the years that followed. It is all rhythm. As a dancer… you are drawn to the beats and to the accents. So… I was always drawn to the drums and percussive aspects of songs. They would get my heart pumping… the excitement of toms coming in as a build is still such a weakness for me.
Tom Tom Magazine: What is your favorite percussion set-up? Why?
Yasmine Kittles:My favorite is a loose set-up. It’s freeing. I enjoy when I create sounds based on the natural movement of the percussion pieces in the space. It creates an element of controlled and sometimes not controlled chaos.
TTM: What would your dream percussion set-up consist of?
YK:I would like to assemble an extreme amount of pieces… many of which would have only one moment in a certain song. An abundance of interesting pieces that vibrate in a way particular to only those pieces.
TTM: What do you think the role of a percussionist is?
YK:I think it depends on the project. I believe in holding back a lot in order for the percussion to carry more weight/ power. It can be an accent, which in actuality, then becomes the song. Memorable.
TTM: Do you play any other instruments? If so … how does that effect your percussion playing?
YK: In TEARIST I sing as I play percussion, which can be challenging b/c I am attempting to alternate between vocal delays simultaneously. The percussion is more rhythmically chaotic during this point. Which is a planned chaos… directly affecting the choice of tone in the vocals and vice a versa.
In XEZ I played a floor tom from behind my back. Alternating between playing the guitar with a drumstick and the beat behind me. I used the guitar as a percussive instrument as well. It was very exciting. And only added to the intensity of the performance and songs as a whole. I had to “want” it more.
TTM: What do you consider to be the most challenging thing about percussion? YK: Definitely to not let it take a backseat to anything.
TTM: What’s your favorite part about playing percussion?
YK: The song’s intensity can really come through in just the striking of these objects. It is very freeing and there is a sense of emotional release as I set my focus on letting the song come through the striking of these objects in rhythm with the heart of the song. I can become even more vulnerable to the sound and through the sound.
TTM: Most notable show you ever played?
YK: The show we just played at the Echoplex. I ended up jumping off the stage and playing the cement floors. I was hitting the ground so hard- that the metal began to spark. It was really beautiful and scary… and the audience seemed captivated by the vision and the harshness of the sound. I was truly afraid that I was going to catch on fire, but I wasn’t going to stop until the song was over!
TTM: Have you experienced any setbacks as a female percussionist?
YK: At times I feel that people don’t take my role as a percussionist as seriously- until I begin playing. It seems as though I have to gain respect through my performance. I had a really nasty soundman at a club in New York that treated me in general as though I had no idea what I was doing or talking about… Then, once we had finished our soundcheck- he was kissing our ass. I was pissed, b/c it was my first extreme experience with it… but by the end I felt triumphant. I did not back down at any point- in my needs on stage… It just lights a fire that I can then express on stage… so in a way it can be positive. But it’s annoying.
TTM: Who are your favorite drummers/percussionists?
YK: Evelyn Glennie is hands-down my favorite percussionist. She is first and foremost an incredible percussionist… the first full-time solo percussionist. Her playing speaks for itself… but on top of this… she is deaf- which is most often a side-note to her talent. She “feels” the music and the vibrations- with her body. It’s beautiful to see. I am, also, a huge fan on Stewart Copeland and Terry Bozio.
TTM: If you could change one thing about percussion what would it be?
YK: You can change everything about percussion. There are no rules. That’s what’s so beautiful about it. It’s what you decide percussion is. It’s vibrations and rhythm, which can be anything.
TTM: Where do you shop for your percussion pieces?
YK: I find pieces. I play found metal. Every piece is different- based on the shape and where it is found… if it is rusted. Every dent changes the sound. The vibration is different. And what you chose to hit the metal with is, also, incredibly important to the sound. I was hitting one metal pipe with an old rusted railroad spike that would cause such an intense sound… that was not required for other songs. For other songs I will often either use a drumstick or a metal ring that I would wear and use in the set.
TTM: What would you recommend to a new percussionist starting off?
YK: My advice would be to not take any advice. I would say, “Do it. Don’t let anyone tell you what’s right or wrong. It’s coming from you. So, let it be you.”
TTM: What are some of your other hobbies / interests?
YK: Honestly, my interests are actually this. What I am doing… this band- TEARIST. I’m also passionate about acting. Having been a working actress for quite sometime, starring in various independent films as well as an incredible amount of stage work… I continue to dance, as well. My heart lies in performance pieces heavily inspired by The Theatre of Cruelty manifesto by Antonin Artaud… All of these elements- incorporated into this band.
TTM: Who are some of your favorite lady drummers/percussionists right now?
YK: Yoshimi P-We of the Boredoms. Evelyn Glennie, as I mentioned, and Sheila E. She is unreal. I saw a video of her, and she completely changed the way I thought of drumming and percussion. I would watch videos of her and sit with my eyes wide and jaw dropped- not realizing it could ever be this way. Life changing.
TTM: Who are some of your favorite bands right now?
YK: Light Asylum is truly moving. We are both 2 pieces, and Shannon is absolutely captivating. I can’t remember the last time a band gave me goosebumps. Also, Pictureplane. I really love what Travis is doing.